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 Topic: critique of David Powers

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  • critique of David Powers
     OP - January 26, 2015, 04:54 AM

    I've noticed that David Powers' "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men" gets cited around the place. I bought a copy on Amazon a few years ago, but I'll admit - I couldn't get to grips with it and therefore, I didn't review it (like I still haven't reviewed any Wansbrough anywhere). Today I ran across a critique by Yasin Dutton. This is "Old Light On A New Problem: The Kalāla Verses Revisited" in Journal of Semitic Studies 59.2 (Aut. 2014), 357-76.

    Dutton has written several very-good articles on what's now being called "Codex Parisino-petropolitanus" aka "BNF 328a", pointing out that it might be Himsi (if you're a classicist, Emesan). Dutton also wrote a book titled "The Origins of Islamic Law" but then, as Wael Hallaq has pointed out, all scholars of Islamic law write one of those, and it's never about the origins of fiqh   Roll Eyes

    So, Dutton seems to be good on the Arabic script; but once upon a time overconfident in his own abilities in fiqh. Here he is critiquing Powers on the interplay between the two. I copied this from the JSS website.

    The publication of D.S. Powers’ Muḥammad is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet again raises questions about the meaning of the word kalāla and, by extension, the history of the Qur’ān and Islamic inheritance law. In this article, we reconsider the verses where kalāla is mentioned, and, in particular, Powers' contention that the word originally read kalla, meaning daughter-in-law, and not kalāla. We first question his supposed manuscript evidence for this assertion, preferring to read instead an unambiguous instance of the word kalāla. Secondly, we question his grammatical understanding of the word, basing ourselves on Mālik's Muwaṭṭa', which suggests that we should understand the word as a maṣdar (verbal noun) rather than a substantive. We also cast doubt on Powers' argument that it was only as a later, post-Prophetic development that the Prophet came to be considered — or was ‘made’ — the Last Prophet. Rather, we consider the linguistic and literary evidence to point to the clear conclusion that Muhammad was always considered, from his lifetime, as the Seal of the Prophets in the sense of being the last of them.

  • critique of David Powers
     Reply #1 - January 26, 2015, 05:28 AM

    I'd have to see the article to have an opinion on it, but as a big fan of David Powers' analysis, it's hard to see how Dutton could resolve so many textual problems, starting with the fact that the Uthmanic Qur'an felt the need to add an interpolated explanatory verse (4:176) to explain what kalala meant to the community that was asking about it, the acrimonious debates, the expressions of bafflement in early tafsir and hadith, the fictitious isnads for the two diverging main interpretations, the terrible Arabic grammar of the Uthmanic 4:12, its conflicting inheritance rules with 4:176, etc.

    As for the idea that 33:40 isn't a late interjection, I think that's difficult to stomach for many reasons, including the fact that it is the *only* Qur'anic mention of the concept of Muhammad being the seal of the prophets, and it appears in the specific context of a truly bizarre statement that he 'is not the father of any of your men.' 

    But it's actually better than that ... I wasn't quite telling the truth about it being the only Qur'anic mention.  There's actually one more Qur'anic mention of Muhammad as the seal.  It's just that it appears in *Ubayy's* Qur'anic codex, as reported by Muslim tradition (dubious that it had anything to do with its namesake), in which the rather problematic phrase "and his name shall be Ahmed" in 61:6 is replaced by the phrase "whose community will be the last community and by whom God will place the seal on the prophets and messengers." Assuming the reports of this Ubayy variant are correct, then we have TWO Qur'anic mentions of 'seal of the prophets.'  And this variation (by my lights) is pretty outstanding evidence that "seal" statements were late and polemical subjects from the believers that got interpolated into the text ... the Ubayy variant having been created after a split between it and the Uthmanic.  Why was that Ubayy variant created?  Surely because establishing Muhammad's ultimate prophetic status was felt to be such a pressing theological need at a relatively late stage, and because the problematic "Ahmed" phrase (retained in the more archaic Uthmanic version of 61:6) was better subbed out with a "seal of the prophets" phase, which had become a critical point of dispute.

    In this, as with so many issues, much often turns on how much *deference* is given to the idea that Islamic tradition must likely be correct, that the Qur'an's Arabic is correct in its traditional readings, and that the manuscripts are not corrupted.

    Btw, I note that one other early Qur'anic manuscript has apparently treated kalala in a very peculiar manner.
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